Beijing 2022 reports first case of Covid among arriving athletes and team officials

Beijing 2022 and the IOC revealed initial Covid-19 testing figures over the weekend, announcing that zero athletes arriving in Beijing had tested positive for the virus. However, testing figures from new arrivals in Beijing on Monday confirmed the first positive test among athletes and team officials, as the 2022 Winter Olympics creep closer.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment walk past a board showing Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Mascot and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games Mascot, near the Main Press Center ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Workers wearing personal protective equipment walk past a board showing Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Mascot and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games Mascot, near the Main Press Center ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games confirmed the first positive test for Covid amongst a group labeled “athletes and team officials” on Monday. It remains unclear if the individual who tested positive is an athlete scheduled to compete at the Games, or a member of their supporting staff or national delegation.

The case was confirmed from testing conducted at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Monday. There had been no positive tests registered from athletes or team officials in the 19 days prior on which testing had been conducted.

However, earlier testing had identified 39 positive cases of Covid-19 among other stakeholders arriving in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Additionally, three more positive tests were registered by other stakeholders during Monday’s regimen of testing.

Positive tests for Covid-19 have also been registered within the closed-loop management system for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Local organizers confirmed a total of 35 positive tests within the closed-loop, noting that none were amongst athletes or team officials. It was also noted that those who have tested positive for Covid-19 have been notified and are currently isolating.

Statistics shared by Beijing 2022 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) show that nearly 375,000 tests have been administered within the closed-loop management system since it began operation in early January. The system was designed to reduce contact between Olympic attendees and the greater Chinese populace, with Beijing 2022 confirming that those within the closed-loop are “completely separated from the outside society.”

A woman walk pasts a sign on a fence marking the limit of the closed loop "bubble" area created to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, China January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A woman walk pasts a sign on a fence marking the limit of the closed loop "bubble" area created to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, China January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In a remote technical briefing held last week, Dr. Brian McCloskey, Chair of the Medical Expert Panel (MEP), spoke to the media about the goals of the Covid-19 countermeasures in place. He was quoted by Olympics.com as stating, “we have always said the target is not zero cases; the target is zero spread.”

“Already at the Tokyo Games we knew there would be some people who would come through and they would test positive after they arrived. The challenge is to make sure we pick those up very quickly and that they do not cause a spreading event.”

“We haven’t seen that in Tokyo. Because we test every day, even if somebody turns positive on the test, we know they were negative the day before – and in 24 hours they will not have had time to become infectious.”

He further elaborated on the topic of testing, stating, “There are several layers of testing: the pre-departure testing, the airport testing and the testing individually in the closed loop.”

“At each stage a number of people who might be incubating the virus and could test negative in the previous layer are taken out. So we expect to see the positivity rate going down across those three modalities.”

Commenting on the testing procedures in place for Beijing 2022, McCloskey said, “the testing in Beijing is robust and is reliable. It is the same type of PCR test that is used the world over.”

Brian McCloskey, a member of the International Olympic Committee's Medical Expert Panel, speaks during a video interview with Reuters in London, Britain, in this still image taken from video on January 20, 2022. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
Brian McCloskey, a member of the International Olympic Committee's Medical Expert Panel, speaks during a video interview with Reuters in London, Britain, in this still image taken from video on January 20, 2022. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

“For the Games, the test is set at a very sensitive level because what we want to achieve is not to get Omicron into the closed-loop system. Extra reagents and different gene targets have been brought in to ensure that, although we set it very sensitively, we can increase the specificity to exclude false positives.”

On omicron, McCloskey added, “we do know that Omicron is more infectious, but we also know that all the standard public health measures that we have all used over the last two years in the pandemic – the social distancing, respiratory hygiene, hand washing, masking, ventilation etc. – they all work for Omicron as they did for previous variants. So the system still works.”

“The testing works and will pick it up early, but we do recognise there may be a shorter incubation period. Therefore, we have to work faster and it is more likely that people who tested negative in the pre-departure tests, for example, can get infected or re-infected before leaving home and might test positive by the time they get to China.”

Concerns around Covid-19 have permeated the conversations surrounding the 2022 Winter Olympics as the winter sporting event grows nearer. Athletes have continued to voice their fears and concerns about the consequences of contracting the virus. Austrian snowboarder, Anna Gasser, told German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW), “my biggest fear is to get it just before the games and pretty much destroy my dream.”

Her sentiments have been shared by many other athletes, as those attending the Games look to enter the close-loop management system and compete on one of the biggest sporting stages in the world.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin on February 4, with select competitions scheduled to begin two days prior on February 2, 2022.